8 minute read

Choices by Robin Prince Monroe

Choices by Robin Prince Monroe

Nola lived in the part of the city that felt greasy, and all black and white. It was summer, July, and the heat seeped up from the asphalt and into her one window. She kept it cracked open, trying to ease the stuffiness that blanketed her apartment building.

The street outside her tiny studio was loud, a cacophony of cars and trucks swishing by, the staccato of impatient horns, the more than occasional siren, and voices…voices with variety of pitches, dynamics, and tempos. Different languages floating up melting into the stale, humid, summer air.

Most mornings she could hardly wait to get back to painting. If she started early, she could finish a painting before dusk dissolved into night. The gray of the world outside her window disappeared when she filled her canvas with unmuted color. Skies, sometimes cerulean, but often colors more unique to her work…pinks, violets, soft blue-greens would shine in her imagined skies. Bright cadmiums: yellows, reds, and oranges punctuated the cool colors like giggles in a hushed cathedral.

Today she was painting a beachside restaurant with an outdoor patio that she had sketched before breakfast. A circle of friends, a man and two women, dressed in summer white and primary colors, sat around a wooden table having seafood, and sharing a bottle of wine. The people she was painting were impressions of her friends, and her sweet Freddy. She was planning to visit them all soon…as soon as she could finish her work and get away.

She heard something. A soft knock at the door?

“Wake up, Ms. Adler, it’s time for lunch and your meds.” Sally was a sweet, young girl from Georgia whose lilting accent might be soothing, or annoying, if it interrupted Nola’s flow.

Sally did a little cooking and cleaning for Nola so she could focus on her art. The gallery expected her to finish several new pieces for the opening. She had to maximize distractions, but she also needed a little time away. The grayness of this place was beginning to suffocate her.

Just a few more touches. She moved back and took a look at the restaurant scene and declared it finished. She never felt anything was truly finished, but she knew if she didn’t stop the paint would muddy up and lose the freshness that she was aiming for.

Finally, on the road, windows down, wind blowing her short, white hair, Nola couldn’t wait to breathe in the salt air and her friend’s laughter. These breaks were good for her, and good for her art.

Nola had met Freddy at Rockaway Beach over three decades ago. They were just kids then, full of dreams and mischief. Freddy would be waiting for her. He’d kiss her good and hard, wrap her in a hug, then they’d walk on the shore and catch up on his gardening, and her work.

More than once Nola had tried to get Freddy to come back to the city to live with her. He said he couldn’t. They had both accepted that, and had settled into enjoying the time they could share on her visits. But she never left Freddy without crying, and he never waved good-bye without his eyes filling up. This was to be her last big show. Their plan was for her to move to Rockaway after the opening, when the dust had settled. She had lived in New York City her whole life. Even in its grayness it was a good place for her. In fact, the grayness was the perfect contrast to the bright colors she loved so much. After Freddy had moved away she had held on tight to her city home but as each new day came and went she could feel her grasp loosening. She was almost ready to let go.

She sketched a few new studies while at the beach.

Cammie and India, Nola’s best friends were talkers. They could jabber on for hours, half listening to one another, but still enjoying being together. And Nola could listen to them forever, sketching the tilt of Cammie’s head or India’s dimpled smile. Her time away from her easel and palette was never wasted. Her colorful friends, and the beautiful place they lived gave her material to work on for weeks.

Being an artist made her an observer, and this trip she observed a closeness between Freddy and India that made her uncomfortable. Because of that she had stayed longer than she intended. It was time to go back home and get to work.

“Grammy? Grammy? Wake up.” Nola’s granddaughter, Carrie, was patting her hand.

“Carrie, forgive your Grammy, I must have dozed. How in the world are you?”

Carrie’s curly, red hair framed her fair, freckled face like a halo. Her light blue eyes glowed like fireflies when she smiled.

“You are so beautiful, sweet girl.”“Grammy, I brought lunch. Let’s eat and have a visit.”

Nola couldn’t eat, so she just sat quietly listening to Carrie. Being a kindergarten teacher was hard. Ever since high school Carrie had fought anxiety and depression, so teaching was probably not the best choice for a career, but she braved it out because she loved the kids. She loved seeing them learn and grow.

Nola listened. She knew that what Carrie needed most was someone to really hear her. But Nola couldn’t help occasionally glancing over at her easel. She needed to get back to work if she was going to finish a painting by evening.

Freddy walked her up to the periwinkle colored house. This was to be the last visit before her move. They had dinner at a little diner nearby. Nola was tired from the trip and didn’t want to go too far. She noticed India chose the seat right next to Freddy. Nola had sat opposite him so she could hear him better and see his smile. Every so often India leaned over to talk to Freddy. She’d say something Nola was unable to hear, then laugh. The third time India leaned in Nola had had it.

“What’s going on with you two!?”

“Nothing’s going on, Nola. We are just excited about you finally coming to stay. We’re making plans, that’s all.”


“Nola, India and I are your best friends. We love Freddy. But he’s a friend. That’s all. You know that. What’s going on with you?”

“Well, the two of them have been pretty cozy lately…It’s going to be harder than I thought…this move. Carrie came to visit last week. I think she still needs me to be around.”

“I need you too, Nola.” Freddy reached across the table and took her hand in his.

“It’s time, don’t you think.”

Carrie burst into the room. Wake up Grammy! Look! She held out her left hand, a tiny diamond set in gold filigree was there announcing that Carrie was getting married to the young man she had been talking so much about. Nola was genuinely happy for her. She had met Peter and he seemed to be everything Carrie had hoped for. And everything Nola had hoped for too, a safe place for Carrie to land at the end of her harried days.

It was all going well. Nola had finished her work. Carrie was happily planning her wedding. She had overheard Sally and Carrie talking, and both had agreed to help her get ready for the move.

Nola slept deeply and peacefully that night. She was sad as she thought about leaving her home. But Freddy was right. It was time.

The show was a roaring success. In spite of the fact that her art was priced higher than it had ever been before, Nola’s paintings flew off the walls.

“She wanted to be in Rockaway near Freddy,” said Carrie. “I’m sure going to miss her.” The sun reflected off Carrie’s golden-red hair as she laid a bouquet of daisies by the granite stone.

Robin Prince Monroe lives in the beautiful and mysterious Lowcountry of South Carolina. She is a free-lance writer, artist, and beach crazy, child at heart. She has been writing since she was nine, when she received her first rejection for publication from a kind editor who told her to, “Keep writing”, and she has. She delights in writing for children; and has authored four picture books, a middle grade novel and a chapeter book. Her work has also appeared in Guideposts, Money Matters, and Special Education Today.Currently working on some pieces for “big” people, Robin is having fun writing a short story, a novella, and her memoir.